Black Moth Super Rainbow is a psychedelic rock group from Pittsburgh who recently came to play in Chicago’s venerable Metro theater, always a wonderful place to catch an indie rock show. But they aren’t your typical 4-person, organic instrument, psychedelic rock group. You will not hear too much that will remind you of San Fransisco or the Haught-Ashbery type sound, which arguably started the concept of psych-rock. In fact, you might not hear anything that will remind you of anything, as their sound and approach is pretty singular.
For some reason it’s hard to tell from purely listening to their music how many musicians their are, but their set up when seen live is relatively simple, even if the resulting sound isn’t. There is a lead signer/vocoder/guitarist, a keyboard/momosynth player, a drummer, and a bassist/guitarist. It is interesting to note that Tobacco, the lead singer, always sings into a vocoder. You would think that maybe live he would diverge from this tactic a little bit, but actually not at all, it’s as if the sound of the vocoder is what he envisions as the perfect vocals and never wants to hear any natural voice. On their Myspace page under influences it says, “people who broadcast from hidden places”, so it seems this is the type of mysterious emotional spin they desire for their recorded and live material.Black Moth Super Rainbow – Born On a Day The Sun Didn’t Rise by memphisindustries
It is interesting to note their visual set up. They played in front of a large screen, which would be connected to recorded high definition video of usually some natural scenery. For example once their one a video of a farm land, another time of the inside of the forest, and the video would just be played, as if someone set up the camera and then just pressed record. So there are no effects, nothing actually set in time with the music, you just see the scenery as you would if you were just standing where the camera was. Occasionally a person would walk through the screen, but usually there was no change but wind movement and the occasional animal. It was a simple, triply, interesting-but-not-distracting way of having show visuals. On paper it might sound odd, but it actually came off very well in practice.
Black Moth Super Rainbow is at their best when they are juxtaposing their unearthly vocal sounds with an adroit and balanced psychedelic pop music in the background, one aspect draws you in, the other shoots your ears into space. The result is a toe-tapping, head scratching, pleasantly dissociative musical experience. This was best put on display on this night with Jump Into My Mouth And Breathe In The Stardust (from their album “Dandelion Gum”) and Born On A Day The Sun Didn’t Rise (from their album “Eating Us”, which this author believes is clearly their best).
Overall however they suffered, at least on this night, from a very common problem (that still shouldn’t happen); they had very unbalanced and muffled sound. Only on a couple of songs could what was being said by Tobacco into the vocoder actually discernible. Yes, the whole point of the vocoder is to make vocals less understandable, this is understood. But from anyone who has listened to their albums it was clear that it wasn’t supposed to be that muffled. Not only could one not hear what was being said when this happened, but you also loose the ability to hear the pitch and emotional inflections in his voice, which is arguably more important than the actual lyrics themselves. Also, the monosynth was a little overbearing, and the guitars a little soft. And while the drums were right on (as the drummer interestingly wore a full head mask with a slit for his eyes, like a terrorist from some movie), these aforementioned sound unbalances were very unfortunate and detracted from the experience.
Overall though their set was still worth taking in, and created for a friendly and fun vibe in the Metro, which is something that venue seems to create with relative ease. Their background visuals were different, simple, yet novel. This, combined with their very novel and unique sound, created for quite the distinctive live music experience. Are they worth seeing again? Yes. Anyone could have an off night, don’t toss them into the “only a studio band” pile just yet, there was clearly musical talent on stage. With a little more focus on sonic balance, a relatively easy thing to do, their show would quickly become something to talk highly of. We will just have to wait until see next time…
By Sean Brna
(please excuse the lack of original pictures, there was a camera/memory card issue)